Improving Lives of the Rural Women and Girls Using Information and Technology in Uganda

I have been privileged to be involved with four different types of women:

  • Rural women that typically are uneducated and have no access to information and communication technologies (ICTs)
  • Women on the fringes of urban areas, most of whom have finished or dropped out of school and have limited access to ICTs—most rely on radio and television, which provide limited information
  • Urban women with education but that are not practicing career women (commonly stay-at-home mothers)
  • Elite or career women

Each category has its unique characteristics, needs and things that appeal to them. However, they have one thing in common: the desire to be empowered in order to break down barriers to better living.

What they need is an opportunity to tap their potential, and to have that potential be nurtured with sensitivity, knowledge, skills, and encouragement within a safe environment.

My story focuses mainly on the typical rural woman and girl. The main characteristic of this group of women and girls is that they are illiterate or semi-illiterate, with little or no access to ICTs.

They stay home while the men go out to the trading centers; they have the burden of keeping house and bringing up children; they have less time for improving their skills and knowledge; and they have less access to information.

According to a needs assessment that was conducted to find appropriate technology solutions, the desires of rural women and girls include having information about food processing, small business and marketing, agriculture and animal husbandry, and how to bring up their children, treat themselves and their children for illness, and prevent disease.

An appropriate technology program was developed for these women and packaged as a CD-ROM that uses browser software, graphics, spoken text, local case studies, and photographs. The women move the mouse across a screen and click on pictures or text to hear a voice speaking in their own language.

The only training they needed was learning how to move and click the mouse. The program content included information about how to earn money, including descriptions of available resources, how to plan a business, the essential ingredients of a successful business, plus answers to common dilemmas.

The program clearly demonstrates that illiterate women and girls can use it without having to know how to read or write. They could use it easily by themselves.

They could directly access the information that they needed to improve their lives. The tool was affordable, easily adapted to other themes, and capable of carrying multiple language tracks.

Anastasia, who had been growing coffee, got a cow, a chicken, goats, and pigs after using the program. She now has a mobile phone that she uses to communicate with her family members.

Technology innovation should be highly visual, with simple language formats (preferably in a local language), voice interactive with local content, and use case studies and photographs. It should be adapted so that it can be used away from the telecenters — by individuals at home, or in the local centers using equipment available there such as interactive TV and illustrative materials.

Rita Mijumbi Epodoi
Board Member, Telecentre.org Foundation
Article first published at Ashoka Changemakers for the She Will Innovate competition.